Lost Fishermen Return Home, Tell Tale of Survival

Joe Dacanay, of Kwajalein’s Vector Control group, greets and leads Godfrey Capelle, center, and Benjamim Thomas to a medical station on Bucholz Army Airfield on Kwajalein May 28. Thomas and Capelle survived 42 days at sea in a powerless fishing vessel and have returned to Kwajalein Atoll.

Two Ebeye men who washed up in the Federated States of Micronesia after six weeks adrift on a powerless boat have made it back to Kwajalein Atoll.

Stepping off Air Marshall Islands’ Dash 8 airliner May 28 on Kwajalein, Godfrey Capelle and Benjamin Thomas became the first people to re-enter the RMI since the imposition of a COVID-19-related RMI.

For nearly 1.5 months, the men’s boat drifted 1,000 miles (880 nautical miles) on a west-southwest heading, passing tantalizingly close to Pohnpei, before luckily washing up May 14 on the remote Namoluk Atoll, 130 miles southeast of Chuuk. Two weeks later, following the RMI government’s decision to repatriate the men, FSM authorities transported Capelle and Thomas to Pohnpei via a patrol vessel, after which the Air Marshall Islands flight brought them to Kwajalein May 28.

But after coming so far, they cannot go home quite yet.  Because the two men washed up in the FSM, one of the few nations along with the RMI to remain free of the coronavirus, Marshall Islands officials allowed the men back into the country, provided they undergo testing for the virus before and after travel from Pohnpei, FSM and also endure a strict 14-day quarantine on Kwajalein. Only after they complete their quarantine can they return to their homes and families on Ebeye.

The risk the fishermen contracted COVID-19 had been low, the RMI Office of the President affirmed in a May 28 statement. But the repatriation of Capelle and Thomas, along with five other RMI citizens who were permitted to take advantage of the AMI flight from the FSM, has provided the Marshall Islands government a rare cohort of people needed to test the quarantine protocols and facilities established on Majuro and Kwajalein. For the time being, these re-entries will be limited exceptions to the ongoing re-entry ban, which was extended on June 5 for another 30 days. The quarantine facilities and the medical and support staff operating them will be essential in prohibiting the transmission of the virus into the atolls of Kwajalein and Majuro and beyond.

Following a protocol developed by USAG-KA and contractor leadership, on May 28 medical staff in full protective gear greeted Capelle, Thomas and fellow Ebeye resident Connielynn Paul, who had also been stranded in Pohnpei. After taking the travelers’ temperatures, the hospital personnel gathered mucus samples for COVID-19 analysis at the hospital’s laboratory, all results of which came back negative. The visitors then began their 14-day isolation period in empty homes set aside as quarantine facilities on Kwajalein.

The threat of contracting the coronavirus has been the least of the men’s worries, however. Having survived nearly 1.5 months in the open Pacific Ocean in a small, powerless skiff, Capelle and Thomas have certainly put the worst behind them. They can endure another two weeks together, on dry land a stone’s throw from their homes and families.

Capelle took a few minutes Thursday to tell a bit of the harrowing story.

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It was a routine fishing trip April 2. Capelle, Thomas and a third man on the boat, Junior Joram, who did not survive the ordeal, had punched through SAR Pass and were working their fishing lines when the carburetor in Capelle’s 40-horsepower outboard motor jammed, he said. It was about 3 or 4 p.m., and they were already three miles off the west reef between Kwajalein and Eneobuj. The motor would not restart.

Capelle called for help via his radio at about 5:30 p.m., and within an hour a pair of RMI search and rescue vessels set out to retrieve the men and the 20-foot boat, RMI authorities stated. But by early evening, ushered west by winds gusting between 25 and 35 mph, the men were quickly losing sight of Eneobuj and Kwajalein. When the rescue group on the search vessels finally spotted Capelle’s boat shortly before sundown, the small skiff was already six miles outside SAR Pass, Giff Johnson of the Marshall Islands Journal had reported in April. 

But “I saw the federal boat come close to me,” Capelle said Thursday. “But they never see my light.” The rescuers had actually decided against pursuing the fishermen in the rough seas at night, hoping to resume a wider search the next day in safer conditions. By the next morning, well outside of working range of Capelle’s very high frequency radio, the fishermen were firmly on their way to nowhere in particular.

In the coming days, a crew aboard one of the garrison’s Fairchild Metroliners initiated a search effort west and southwest of Kwajalein. And, per request from the RMI Embassy in Washington, D.C., a U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue team flew out a C-130 from Hawaii to aid in the search effort. But all attempts to locate the blue-and-white-painted 20-foot skiff, and the three Ebeye residents aboard, turned up nothing.

“What I do is just pray,” Capelle said. For weeks, the men held on as aggressive trade winds kicked the boat through 10-foot seas broiling atop five miles of endless blue water. “Sometimes I was scared,” Capelle said. “Sometimes big waves. Big waves. Rain.”

The men still had their fishing gear and were able to catch fish attracted to the boat—the only landmark on the surface for hundreds of miles. They took advantage of seabirds landing on the boat, as well, lunging at them and trapping them with their hands. A quick whack with an oar usually did the trick too, Capelle said. Preparing the birds was unappealing, but they did their best to dry the meat out using the sun’s heat. “After maybe three hours, eat,” he said.

Long days and long nights lied ahead. Passover went by. Then Good Friday and then Easter. “Oh yeah, we pray. Prayed a lot. Every day,” Capelle said, adding that it was his faith in God and his love for his family that kept him going. He also knew if they waited long enough, the trade winds were bound to push them into one of the islands or atolls peppering the ocean surface throughout Micronesia. “I know there is an island,” he said he told himself, Thomas and Joram. “I know plenty island to the southwest.”

On April 19, 2.5 weeks into the odyssey, tragedy struck. It was at about 1 p.m. when a large wave knocked one of the boat paddles into the water, or caused it to fall out of one of the men’s hands, Capelle said. Joram knew it was dangerous to get in the water and leave the boat, but he also knew how important that oar might be to them if they sighted land. “I tell him already if something drops, do not jump into the water,” Capelle said. Joram went after it anyway. He made it to the paddle, “and so he tried to swim the paddle back but can’t. There’s too much waves, wind. We tried to help him, but cannot.”

As the boat drifted away, so did Joram’s chance of surviving. He would never make it back to the boat. “I do not know what happened to him,” Capelle said.

Four days later, around April 23, Capelle and Thomas spotted Pohnpei. The mountainous island was heartbreakingly close—about the distance Ebeye is from Carlos, said Capelle. But the trade winds had nudged his boat just south of its fringing reef, and there was no chance the men could fight the wind and close the distance with only one paddle. “I saw Pohnpei. I tried to go to it, but the wind coming northeast, so I cannot.” 

Another 2.5 weeks of survival at the mercy of the Pacific lied ahead for Capelle and Thomas. The two men sustained themselves on whatever fish, birds and rainwater they could collect. Their friend was gone, and they prayed day in and day out. At night, they looked up at the glittering arms of the Milky Way as the ocean’s black rollers slid them farther from home and hoped to make it off the boat alive.

And then, one day, they did.

On May 12, Capelle and Thomas spotted a couple of low-lying islands in their path. And as if answering their prayers, the wind blew the boat right into the reef’s embrace at about 5 p.m. It was Namoluk Atoll, a pint-sized atoll measuring only three miles long at its widest point and located 130 miles southeast of Chuuk. Only five islands comprise the atoll, and Capelle and Thomas had landed on the reef next to one of the smallest, likely Lukan, on the atoll’s northern periphery.

Asked how he felt Thursday when setting foot on the beach, Capelle was reserved. “I just thanked God and pray,” Capelle said. “I was happy.”

That night on the small island he noticed lights on the larger island, Namoluk, to the west just about a mile away. “I saw the light on the Namoluk. So I said, ‘Oh there’s people there. Tomorrow we go there.’” After sleeping on solid ground for the first time in six weeks, Capelle and Thomas got up and paddled all the way to Namoluk Island, meeting the villagers who would take them in and radio authorities in Chuuk for help.

Capelle and Thomas spent the next two weeks in Chuuk. While the governments of the FSM and RMI figured out how to possibly repatriate the fishermen under the ongoing COVID-19-related travel restrictions and re-entry bans, the men had time to reflect on how fortunate they were to wash up on Namoluk. Had they missed the little atoll, the next possible body of land on Capelle’s and Thomas’ heading—barring currents—would have been a northern province of Indonesia: an additional 1,700 miles of travel and approximately another nine weeks of survival in Capelle’s small boat.

At the time of the publication of this story, Capelle and Thomas are on day nine of their quarantine on Kwajalein. Capelle said he’s pleased with the quality of care he’s receiving from the medical and support staff tasked with monitoring his health and delivering hot meals and other supplies to the men three times per day.

But 62 days after setting out on that ill-fated fishing trip, he can’t wait to get home to Ebeye to see the people he cares about the most.

“I want to see my family and my friends,” he said.

After that? Well, Capelle’s got to provide, he said: “Back to fishing. I will look for another boat.”

Back on the Range: Former KMR Range Ops Officer Reflects on Atoll’s Missile History

U.S. Army Maj. Carl McGrew (Ret.), a former Kwajalein Missile Range Range Operations Officer, poses in front of Meck Island, where he supported test launches of several generations of anti-ballistic missile systems through the years.

A searing sun slides into the horizon, revealing a cavalry of puffy horsehead-shaped clouds marching slowly westward. Carl McGrew, a visitor all too familiar with the iconic cotton-candy-pink sunsets of Kwajalein Atoll, props himself on the mainsail boom of his son’s sailboat, Cherokee, and lets the moment soak in. “How sweet it is,” he says, clasping a cup of icy gin and tonic water.

Between brief, quiet moments of reflection, he tells story after story about his adventures on and off Kwajalein Missile Range, hitting everything from his involvement in the Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense program, to catching massive marlin with nothing but the head of a mop and fishing line. His presence aboard the boat is one of the reasons I’ve accepted a last-minute invitation to set sail on a short trip to Roi-Namur with him, his son, Paul, and friends and family. If Carl was going, I wanted to go, too. Not only to share his company but also to record a little of the history of the anti-ballistic missile programs in which he was involved.

A retired Army major in the explosive ordnance disposal field, and later a Kwajalein Missile Range operations officer with more than 13 years of service on Kwaj, McGrew helped direct missions on the range through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. These were pivotal times for America’s anti-ballistic missile programs.

McGrew’s assignment as an EOD officer at White Sands Missile Range was one of his earliest forays into the ABM industry.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, Bell Telephone Laboratories, Western Electric and other contractors hired by the Army Rocket and guided Missile Agency were tasked with developing a viable ABM system, busying themselves with early test launches of the superfast short-range ABM missile called Sprint. McGrew was assigned to EOD support for these missions.

“There were some 45 Sprint missiles launched at White Sands,” he says. “I was able to support some 15 of those there in the early development of the Sprint, since it was a very hot booster system.” Equipped with a small, 1-kiloton thermonuclear warhead, it was designed to intercept ICBMs inside the atmosphere just 15 seconds after launch. In testing, the two-stage missile popped out of its silo via a small explosive piston, after which its first stage ignited and accelerated the vehicle at more than 100Gs to a max speed of Mach 10 in just 10 seconds—so fast the nose cone became incandescent. The missile’s engineering was nearly beyond the state of the art. “They had about a 50 percent success rate just to get [Sprints] out of the silos,” McGrew tells me. But the early testing at White Sands created a stable foundation for engagement and intercept testing at Kwajalein, where McGrew would continue to work with the Sprints and another longer-range missile system called Spartan.

A Sprint missile is prepared on the launch rail at White Sands Missile Range June 24, 1965. McGrew supported 15 Sprint launches there.
A Sprint, incandescent from intense speed and air compression, is fired from Meck, supported Safeguard launches.

As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, the Nixon administration, the Joint Chiefs and a slim congressional majority supported deployment of these ABM missiles and two families of advanced phased array radars in an ABM arrangement called Safeguard. Centered among the wheat fields outside of Nekoma, North Dakota, construction of the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex was nearly complete, with systems soon coming online, when McGrew, still an Army EOD officer, moved his family to Kwajalein in June 1974. Flight tests of the Safeguard program’s Sprint and Spartan interceptor missiles were launching from Meck and Illeginni at a breakneck rate: roughly one M2-series intercept attempt a month, and the population of Kwaj was more than 6,000, McGrew remembers. He was assigned to Kwajalein Missile Range’s range operations group, working in the building now known as 1010, and he and four officers directed the range’s operations and mission scheduling for the Sprint and Spartan launches. “When Sprint finally arrived at Kwajalein, it was very successful,” he says. “The development program allowed for it to launch from Meck Island and Illeginni. So, Sprint was a very successful, high-performance missile.” Meck was a beehive of activity until the final test shots, Safeguard M2-545 and M2-548, blasted off the pad at Meck the following April, ending this crucial testing period for the Safeguard program.

U.S. Army Safeguard Command activated the Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in North Dakota on Sept. 28, 1975, and only 19 weeks later the Joint Chiefs ordered the site to shut down: The slim congressional majority that had authorized the program years earlier had given way to voices opposed to Safeguard. It was the end of the line for nuclear-armed ABM missiles on American soil. A new phase in the evolution of ABM defenses would soon begin.

“Those programs were very successful,” McGrew says. “But with the [Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty] agreements, those systems were taken off the shelf, and new systems that were less hazardous to nuclear detonations—hence the rise of kinetic kill programs—came online.”

McGrew loved his assignment on Kwajalein and extended his two-year tour to three years. “I loved the environment to raise my kids in, and it was a wise move.” Apart from his work on the missile range, he became an avid scuba diver, organizing Kwajalein Scuba Club trips to Pohnpei and Chuuk. In 1975, he and 29 other Kwajalein divers checked 60 KSC air tanks onto a Continental Airlines flight, paying $5 per tank, and spent two weeks of diving the reefs and wrecks in those Micronesian states.

“We did the same trip again the next year in 1976,” he says. “The scuba club was very active—a lot of divers, and there were never enough tanks.”

In 1977, the Army assigned McGrew to Huntsville, Alabama, where he retired from the Army as a major, completing 20 years of service. It was the beginning of the Pentagon’s studies into methods of destroying incoming ICBMs through blunt impact instead of nuclear explosions: like hitting a bullet with a bullet, the Army says. One of those early studies, begun in 1977, was the Homing Overlay Experiment, and McGrew was brought aboard by Lockheed Corporation to assist. While the Army and its contractor teams performed deep dive studies on improving radar and computer abilities to discriminate enemy warheads—that is, identify warheads from decoys, penetration aids and debris while en route to their targets—the Army also began developing kinetic kill vehicles. By using rocket stages to launch an independently steerable, thruster-powered object guided by infrared optical guidance systems, the idea was that a KKV could collide head-on with a target, destroying it: no nuclear detonation needed.

The HOE project was the start of McGrew’s 18-year stint in KKV development with Lockheed, and the project brought him and his family back to Kwajalein Missile Range for a second tour. In three tests in 1983, the Air Force launched Minuteman ICBMs toward Kwajalein Atoll, and the Army’s HOE interceptors failed in each test to destroy the dummy warhead. “It was a challenging program” that used off-the-shelf technology, essentially, McGrew says. But on June 10, 1984, the date of the fourth and final test, the HOE’s 13-feet-wide umbrella skeleton wrapped the Minuteman re-entry vehicle in a concussive death hug with a closing speed of more than 6 km per second. McGrew and the HOE planners were elated.

“It was the first kinetic kill, and that was the start of Star Wars, according to President Reagan at the time,” McGrew tells me as we sit at anchor off Roi-Namur.

An ERIS interceptor pokes its nose cone out of the silo at Meck. This missile scored America’s second kinetic ABM kill, a project McGrew looks back on fondly.

Formally known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, Star Wars programs blossomed in the coming years, each fixated on different ways to destroy incoming warheads without the use of nuclear explosions. Some were fanciful for their time—think lasers and platforms bursting with KKVs in orbit around Earth—and some were more straightforward. McGrew moved on to a program grounded on past successes, the Exoatmospheric Re-Entry Interceptor Subsystem, which was a direct descendent of the HOE program and designed to kill ICBMs at long range, outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. On Jan. 29, 1991, the ERIS crew launched the 200-kilogram ERIS booster and KKV from Meck and scored a direct hit against a target Minuteman launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. McGrew looks fondly on that achievement: They had proven KKVs might work in the real world. “Fortunately, we were very lucky and got the first round off and also had a first-round kinetic kill hit,” he says, acknowledging the long road kinetic defense programs still had ahead of them.

A second intercept attempt in March 1992 tested the KKV’s ability to discriminate the correct warhead using its onboard infrared sensors but failed to destroy the target missile. Budget constraints forced an end to ERIS testing soon after, but the knowledge the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization gained on infrared seeking, onboard discrimination, KKV vector thrusting and more were transferred directly to the following—and current—generation of exo-atmospheric kinetic ABM systems: the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense. With 44 Ground-Based Interceptors deployed in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg, the system is charged with protecting the United States from limited ICBM attacks from adversaries.

McGrew looks back fondly on his involvement in HOE and ERIS and his role in ushering the long-range kinetic system from infancy to deployment.

“We did a lot of work out here,” he told me, staring off at Meck Island as we sailed by. “A lot of important work.”

His favorite program, he later tells me, is THAAD, another kinetic ABM system with roots planted during the Reagan Star Wars years. The theater defense system was borne out of the High Endo-atmospheric Defense Interceptor program and designed to destroy medium- and long-range theater ballistic missiles primarily just inside the atmosphere. THAAD was McGrew’s last assignment with Lockheed. He worked as the mission director for a total of nine launches of the THAAD interceptor at White Sands before later system testing took place on Kwajalein Atoll, Wake Island and elsewhere.

“That was a very successful program,” he says. “And it’s operational now, along with the GBI in Alaska and Vandenberg. So, I’m fortunate to see two programs to their fulfillment, and that was 20 years with Lockheed.

“And it’s good that’s deployed,” he continues. “Because things in Korea and in other places have requirements for that system. And it’s nice to see that the Army is able to activate it and keep the Soldiers trained on it.”

A recent THAAD test occurs. McGrew supported several THAAD launches before retiring.

The 13.5 years McGrew spent on Kwajalein Atoll left an indelible impression on him. He’s proud of the roles he had in testing critical ABM systems deployed today, earning many titles though the years. But he’s most proud of calling himself a father, husband and Scoutmaster, he says. Scouting was a way for him to spend time with his family, give back to the community and integrate into the local Marshallese community in ways most people can only imagine now. McGrew and scout leaders from Ebeye would join forces to organize massive, annual Boy Scout jamborees on Bigej, inviting the 500 Marshallese Boy Scouts living on Ebeye and the 30 Kwajalein Boy Scouts for a week-long adventure of cooking pigs in earth ovens and practicing scouting skills.

“Everybody loved to sail, fish and scuba dive,” he says. “But since I was a scout master and had two boys—one became a Life Scout, and one became an Eagle Scout—I enjoyed scouting.”

The fundraisers McGrew helped organize would pull in enough money from the Kwajalein community to send $25,000 checks to the Boy Scout leadership in Honolulu and buy Cadillacs for raffle winners. Yes, Cadillacs for raffle winners on Kwajalein—It was a different time. Other adventures included Boy Scout reef hikes from Ninji to Kwajalein during low-tides, before the causeway from Gugeegue to Ebeye was constructed.

He tells of catching so many marlins that he and his friends employed a clever safer way of continuing to fish them and release them back to the ocean: using the head of a mop, literally. It helps if he explains the quirky technique himself:

“I think I got about 28 marlin up next to the boat. I learned after about 10 of them that it was hard to get the hook out of them and hard to release them. So we went with what is called a mop head technique. You could actually buy a mop at the store and make three lures. And it didn’t have a hook. You just tied the 300-pound line around it and towed it, and it would splash up, and the marlin would hit it. It would hit the mop head like it’s a fish and try to kill it. And its beak would tangle into the mop head getting so tangled up that we were able to reel the marlin in—without a hook. Using that technique, we caught a lot of them safely. The mop head would stay attached to the beak and the big marlins would just walk on top of the water with the mop head behind the boat. The mop head would eventually break down in the water and come off the marlin’s beak. So that was a lesson learned on catching marlin and releasing them.”

McGrew discusses his 13.5 years of experience testing ABM missile systems on Kwajalein Atoll.

A lot has changed on Kwajalein since McGrew first arrived 45 years ago. The Kwajalein Missile Range is now the Reagan Test Site, but it remains a critical test bed for the nation’s missile defense programs, the Air Force’s follow-on test shots of Minuteman III ICBMs and space surveillance and new foreign missile launch tracking. But in the world of missile defense, much of the range activity that kept scientists, engineers and Soldiers busy in earlier decades has moved to other national missile ranges, McGrew says. A population of more than 6,000 in the early 1970s has dropped to just more than 1,000 today. But while budgets are a function of the number of boots on the sand here, enjoying life on Kwaj and Roi is not.

“The lifestyle is the same,” he says. “It’s the most beautiful place to live and raise a family, to enjoy the natural environment to its fullest. It’s great to be able to get these experiences time and time again.”

McGrew, seated next to friend Courtney Swanson, flashes a thumbs up before setting sail on their next leg to Nell.

As Paul motors me away from Cherokee so I can catch a flight back to Kwaj, Carl sits on the stern of the boat, flashes a thumbs up and says goodbye. I remember him saying this might be his last sailing adventure on Kwajalein Atoll. That partly saddens me, but I’m reminded he’s got plenty of other adventures ahead—plus five nights at Nell, the next destination for the Cherokee crew on their trip around the largest atoll in the world.

HOURGLASS INTERVIEWS Ambassador Hideyuki Mitsuoka

Interview by Jordan Vinson, for the U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll’s Kwajalein Hourglass

Japanese Ambassador to the RMI Hideyuki Mitsuoka was on U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll last week to work on bilateral issues involving Japan and the RMI and to also visit with Japanese citizens who flew to Kwajalein Atoll to honor the Japanese service members who perished during WWII battles in the archipelago. Mitsuoka took a few minutes to talk with the Kwajalein Hourglass about his job in Majuro and diplomacy between Japan, the RMI and the United States.

Kwajalein Hourglass: Why is it important for Japan to maintain a strong diplomatic link with the Marshall Islands?

Ambassador Hideyuki Mitsuoka: This is a very important question for us. I think there are several reasons for that. For example … this year marks the 30th anniversary for the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. Our historical ties, however, date back more than 100 years. And we have enjoyed and developed a cooperative relationship over a long time. And also, Japan has been an active and consistent developmental partner of the RMI since the 1980s. So, I believe that Japan’s development assistance in the RMI has greatly contributed to the development of the RMI.

This is the first reason. And secondly, the area you see around the RMI is a good fishing ground for tuna and bonito for Japan. … About 80 percent of consumption of tuna and bonito in Japan comes from these areas of sea around the Pacific island countries, of course, including the RMI. This is the second reason. I think the third reason, in addition to the bilateral relations between our two countries, Japan and the RMI have a cooperative relationship in the international arena, such as in the United Nations. And the RMI always supports Japan’s position in international society. For instance … RMI supports Japan’s aspirations to seek a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

HG: What are a few of the most important bilateral projects the RMI and Japan are working on together?

AHM: Currently, we are working on a project of the installation of a solar electricity system in Ebeye. In November last year, their minister of foreign affairs and trade, John Silk, and I signed an exchange of notes for the project. … I hope that this project will greatly contribute to the RMI’s national energy goal, for renewable energy to cover 20 percent of domestic power demand in the RMI by 2020. Also, we’re a country working on youth exchanges, such as middle school students and high school and college level. Also the revitalization of sister cities between Majuro and Kawai-cho, Kawai Town in Nara Prefecture.

HG: Japan is a major financial and capital donor to the Marshall Islands. Last November, for example, you oversaw the donation of $65,000 to Majuro’s Waan Aelon in Majel (WAM) canoe and outrigger sailing construction and education school. The grant was funded through Japan’s Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects (GGP). Can you tell us more about GGP and other grant programs Japan maintains for the RMI?

Japanese Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Hideyuki Mitsuoka, interviewed by Jordan Vinson on Kwajalein March 24, 2018.

AHM: Japan has mainly carried four types of assistance in the RMI. First is project type grant aid implemented through JICA: Japan International Cooperation Agency. The size of one project is the largest amount of any of Japan’s assistance programs, typically around 10 million U.S. dollars. An example for a project type grant aid is Majuro Hospital and the fish base at Uliga Dock in Majuro. Another type of assistance is economic and social development grant aid, called non-project type grant aid, which is basically the procurement of products and equipment that we give to the government of the RMI.

The [Japanese] embassy is in charge of coordinating, and the size of the grant amount is usually one-to-three million U.S. dollars. In the RMI, examples are heavy equipment, desalination units, waste metal compressors and plastic compressors at the recycling center in Majuro. The third is GGP [Japan’s Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects]. This is smaller size assistance available for local governments, schools, hospitals, local government, energy use and others for the improvement of the social wellbeing of people at the grassroots level. In principal, the grant amount is up to around 90,000 U.S. dollars. Since 1995, over 141 projects of this type have been granted in the RMI. The fourth type, other types or programs conducted by JICA, are technical cooperation, such as providing training opportunities in Japan [and JICA volunteers in the RMI]. Currently 17 JICA volunteers are working for various places, such as elementary schools, Majuro Hospital, MINTA, the EPA and so on. Among them, 16 volunteers are in Majuro, and one volunteer is in Ebeye; he works for Ebeye Elementary School as a mathematics teacher. Usually they spend two years on assignment.

HG: Does Japan funnel any money or capital assistance to the outer atoll communities like Mili Atoll or Jaluit Atoll?

AHM: As far as grant aid to the outer atolls, outer islands, Japan has implemented almost 80 projects through GGP since 1995. These projects were implemented not just in Mili and Jaluit, but also in more than 20 atolls, such as Ailinglaplap, Namorik, Aur, Arno, Ebon and so on.

HG: How many Marshallese citizens, or persons of Marshallese heritage, live in the nation of Japan?

AHM: We have Japanese government statistics. According to the statistics, there are 11 Marshallese citizens living in Japan, and I understand that most of them married Japanese people. Just 11.

HG: What are some of the most important policies or agendas Japan and the United States need to work on?

AHM: I can say that, you know, Japan and United States are strong allies, sharing basic values and strategic interests with the Japan-U.S. security arrangement at the core. This is a very important arrangement between our two countries. So, under such a strong alliance, our two countries are closely working together and sharing roles and responsibilities not only in bilateral relations, but also in regional issues in Asia-Pacific and global issues, such as human security, human rights, climate change, disaster risk reduction and disarmament and non-proliferation [of nuclear weapons]. Moreover, I think the cooperative relationship between our two countries in the international society is getting more important.

HG: North Korean ballistic missile testing and, of course underground nuclear warhead tests, are concerns common to Japan and the United States. What can you say about the importance of the Reagan Test Site, here on Kwajalein Atoll, to Japan’s strategy in dealing with North Korea’s ambitions toward nuclear-armed ICBMs?

AHM: As you know, North Korea has launched missiles flying over Japan several times. And it has said it would launch missiles aiming at the area of sea around Guam. So North Korea has become a serious threat, not only to Japan and the U.S., but also to the whole international society. So, I think the RMI is located in a place between Guam and Hawaii and occupies an important position in terms of the U.S. strategy. This is my personal view. I personally recognize that that the Reagan Test Site plays an important role in terms of playing a deterrence power against North Korea.

HG: Thousands of Japanese Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen died during WWII fighting here on Kwajalein Atoll, in the greater Marshall Islands and in neighboring countries. The Japanese War-Bereaved Families Association (Nippon izokukai) is the organization that flies living relatives of those fallen warriors to visit their graves on these islands in which they perished while fighting for their nation. Can you tell us a little about the role this organization plays in honoring the legacy of Japan’s lost service members, and can you tell us what your office’s interaction is with the organization when it visits the RMI?

AHM: This organization is a nation-wide incorporate foundation chartered by the Japanese government. And its main services consist of a memorial service of the war dead, welfare promotion for the war bereaved families and collection of the remains of the ware dead. So, the Japanese government … supports the foundation by consigned government services and providing financial assistance. Therefore, our embassy extends possible assistance to [the association’s] visits. … The organization has played an important role in honoring the legacy of Japan’s lost service members. Specifically, in order to honor the legacy of Japan’s lost service members, war bereaved families visit many places, many countries, like the Marshall Islands. They visit the Marshall Islands once or twice per year to conduct a memorial service. Other than the Marshall Islands, war bereaved families [visit] many places, such as China, Russia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea, Palua, the Federates States of Micronesia, the Solomon Islands and so on. Not only to the RMI.

HG: How are Japan and the RMI partnering up against climate change?

AHM: We recognize that climate change is an issue that requires immediate action by international community. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change conference of parties has been a pivot for active discussions to reduce greenhouse emissions on the global level, every year since 1995. Japan has actively participated in negotiations on climate change. In December 2015, the Paris Agreement—you know, this was a very important agreement—was adopted as a new international framework for greenhouse gas reduction in the post-2020 period. Actually, Japan has been working with other countries, including the RMI, to develop guidelines for the Paris Agreement realize effective greenhouse reductions by all parties.

The RMI, as you know, is a low-lying nation which is very vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. And they have been raising this issue with great eagerness. … The area of climate change was one of seven areas decided for enhance cooperation between Japan and Pacific island countries, including the RMI At the seventh Pacific Island Leaders Meeting, which was held in Japan in 2015. Climate change is most likely to continue to be one of the very focused areas of cooperation between Japan and Pacific island countries at the eighth Pacific Island Leaders Meeting, which will take place in Japan in mid-May this year. This meeting is a summit-level meeting between Japan and 14 Pacific island countries. So, leaders from these countries will come to Japan to discuss many common issues. This summit-level meeting has been held every three years since 1997. So, this year Japan will host the eighth meeting in Fukushima. This is a very, very important conference between Japan and the 14 Pacific island countries.

HG: Lastly, if residents here had seven days to spend in Japan, what cities or prefectures do you recommend they spend their time in?

AHM: If you visit Japan, for the first time, I would recommend you to travel the so-called Golden Coast, which means Tokyo to Osaka, by bullet train. You can stay in Tokyo for two days. As you know, Tokyo is a very unique city. Why? That city has two faces: One face is a very modern face; the other is a very historical face. It’s very unique. Of course, this is the capital city of Japan and center of politics. And then, after Tokyo, you can go to Hakone. Hakone is very famous for its hot springs. So you can experience hot springs there.

After that, you can move to Osaka. On the way to Osaka, you can see Mt. Fuji and Haman-ko—Like Hamana. And then you can get to Osaka. After that, you go to Kyoto and Nara and back to Osaka. You would go back to Kwajalein from Osaka. This is the typical course for the beginner.

Marshall Islands Mourn Passing of Leroij Seagull Kabua

Feb. 4, 2017 Kwajalein Hourglass

Leroij Seagull Kabua passed away Jan. 24, leaving tens of thousands of Marshallese in mourning. Younger sister to Iroijlaplap Imata Kabua, the paramount chief of the Ralik Chain of the Marshalls, she was one of the highest-ranking traditional leaders in the western Marshalls.

Scores of traditional chiefs, Kabua family members, RMI politicians and U.S. government personnel joined thousands of Ebeye residents Thursday on Ebeye to commemorate her life.

A slow, solemn boat procession carrying Kabua’s remains from Kwajalein allowed her family members to reflect both on the contributions she made to Marshallese society and the leadership vacuum she’s bound to leave behind. Sitting in the afternoon sun at the Ebeye pier, Iroij Mike Kabua, her brother, said one of her true passions was working to conserve the ways of the past. She had been a strong advocate of preserving and performing traditional Marshallese cultural customs and had devoted much of her life to organizing and helping women, her brother said. Ensuring the longevity of traditional weaving, handicraft making, Marshallese language and healthy homemaking and family relationships for her people were important to her, he said: “It was something that she really enjoyed.”

On arrival at the pier, RMI President Hilda Heine, RMI cabinet members, Kwajalein senators, foreign dignitaries and U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll leadership joined Kabua and his family, offering condolences. Having transferred the late leroij’s casket to a lead vehicle festooned with woven palm fronds, event directors led a 40-minute procession around the entire island, allowing the thousands of people gathered on the island to pay their respects.

At the Ebeye United Church of Christ, Jobwa Stick Dancers standing guard at the entrance of the building blew conch shells, signaling the final phase of the procession. Pall bearers adorned in traditional attire hoisted Kabua’s casket onto their shoulders and began a reverent procession into the church while the church choir and visitors sang hymns.

Speaking during the leroij’s funeral, RMI President Heine was joined by Iroijlaplap and former RMI President Christopher Loeak in commending Kabua’s contributions to her people and offering condolences to the loved ones she left behind.

Leroij Seagull Kabua was born in August 1950 on Enmat Island, located next to Nell, on the west reef of Kwajalein Atoll.

SMDC Commander Briefs Kwajalein Community

During a speaking event Wednesday, Jan. 18 at the KHS Multi-Purpose Room on Kwajalein, Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, addresses Reagan Test Site personnel, U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll Command staff, DOD civilians, Kwajalein residents, off-island visitors and the U.S. Ambassador to the RMI.

Jordan Vinson, for the U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll’s Kwajalein Hourglass

Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, the newly appointed command­ing general of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Com­mand, made his first visit to the Reagan Test Site on U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll this week. It was an opportunity for the former U.S. Strategic Command chief of staff to get a ground tour of RTS facilities on Kwajalein Atoll, receive briefings on RTS orbital tracking and anti-ballistic missile missions and meet the men and women who make RTS and USAG-KA tick.

During a speaking event Wednesday, Jan. 18, Dickinson made it a point to emphasize that his first work trip out of Redstone Arsenal after assuming command should be Kwajalein Atoll.

“It’s very, very important what happens out here,” Dickin­son told a crowd of island residents and off-island visitors at the Kwajalein High School Multi-Purpose Room. “Important enough that … this is my first trip. I wanted to come here first and then continue onward to Fort Greely, Alaska.”

It’s there in the subarctic that Soldiers of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion man some of the deployed anti-interconti­nental ballistic missile interceptors that form the backbone of the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Midcourse De­fense system. As the senior commander of both Fort Greely and RTS—which plays a major role in all GMD flight tests—Dickin­son’s eagerness to put eyes on the Kwajalein Atoll element of the sweeping system was apparent.

The general led a viewing of the SMDC’s new command mis­sion video, designed to provide an engaging five-minute over­view of the agency’s current capabilities and emerging tech­nology testing programs, and he said he was happy to see how often RTS sensors, facilities and personnel are featured in the video package. Everything from Kiernan Re-entry Measure­ment Site radars to the Kwajalein Mission Control Center make an appearance. It’s a reflection, Dickinson said, of the strategic importance of the test site and the hard work of the people who operate it.

“The mantra is that the sun never sets on SMDC/ARSTART,” Dickinson said. “That’s because we have Soldiers across 11 time zones and 22 different locations around the world. You are one of them.”

Dickinson also took a moment to reflect on not only the ca­maraderie of the people behind the Kwajalein Atoll mission, but also the quality of life available to those who live and work here.

“Coming out here, my impression is this is a great team,” he said. “Particularly with the seamlessness between the op­erations piece, the garrison piece, the testing piece and having families and programs here on the island to support all that. … You can come out here and spend an indefinite period of time … and have all of these creature comforts that you have [in such a remote place.]”

Dickinson ended his address to the Kwajalein community with an optimistic message, reflecting on mission and garri­son funding and the recent transition of responsibilities for base oversight from the SMDC to the Installation Manage­ment Command.

“I’m your advocate, one of the advocates for the quality of life and mission support out here … And, again, it’s a very im­portant job,” Dickinson said. “I think you’re on a great path with funding and some of the [transitions] that have occurred over the past year or so. So, I’m optimistic about your future, in terms of the strategic plan.”

Ebeye Local Government Briefs U.S. Ambassador on Progress

Kwajalein Atoll Senator David Paul, left, briefs U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Karen Stewart on the progress of development projects in the island community of Ebeye in September 2010.

Jordan Vinson, for the U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll’s Kwajalein Hourglass

Karen Stewart, the United States’ new­est ambassador to the Marshall Islands, flew to Kwajalein Atoll this week to meet local RMI leaders and the U.S. Army Gar­rison-Kwajalein Atoll Command team. During a three-day visit away from the U.S. embassy in Majuro, Stewart joined Matthew Mathews, the State Depart­ment’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, visiting from his post in Washington, D.C. Together, they received briefings on sweeping development projects slated for Ebeye and met with the men and women driving the space and missile missions of the Reagan Test Site and the garrison which houses it.

During a Sept. 7 meeting on Ebeye, Kwajalein Atoll Sen. David Paul, a resi­dent and native of Ebeye, highlighted for Stewart and Matthews the litany of chal­lenges facing the island population of 12,000. The newcomer to senatorial of­fice explained plans to incubate bold ad­vancements to counter issues relating to health, education and the community’s aging infrastructure.

Doubling as chairman of the board of the Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority, Paul spoke to the visitors at length about the high-profile $19 million overhaul of the community’s water, sew­age and sanitation distribution system. Funded by the United States, Australia and the Asian Development Bank, con­tractors broke ground on the project in April 2015 and are scheduled to finish in four years.

In the meantime, a new reverse osmo­sis system should be built and switched on early next year, Paul said. Fed by water pumped up from the islet’s freshwater lens, the new station will be able to pro­duce 500,000 gallons of potable water every 24 hours, a sizeable increase from the current station’s capacity of 180,000 gallons per day. The station’s ribbon cut­ting planned for February should be a welcome relief for Ebeye residents, all of whom this year experienced, in no small measure, the effects of extreme drought during one of the strongest El Niño sys­tems on record.

While the threat of climate change was a point of discussion during the group’s talks, Paul emphasized the importance of renewable energy to the future of Ebeye, Kwajalein Atoll and the greater Marshall Islands. Working with U.S. solar power system manufacturer SolarCity, Paul ex­plained the goal of shifting 40 percent of the island’s electricity consumption to solar energy in coming years. The move, funded by grants and low-inter­est financing from the World Bank and other international organizations, could equate to serious fuel savings, which could fuel other projects, he said.

“Depending on the cost of fuel, we’re talking about $1.2 million to $1.6 million [in savings] a year,” he told Stewart and Matthews. “These are the initiatives that we are trying take ourselves so that we can continue to reduce our costs.”

With respect to the Marshall Islands’ ongoing clamor for a reduction of green­house emissions, a large-scale conver­sion to solar energy would also send out important political signals to the inter­national community, Paul said.

Kwajalein Atoll Senator David Paul, left, briefs U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Karen Stewart on the progress of development projects in the island community of Ebeye in September 2010.

The fact that the community plans to generate electricity the old fashioned way—going to the extent of purchasing new diesel generators—should not call into question his government’s dedica­tion to the effort, Paul said.

“What we want is stability,” he told the visitors. “When we bring in new genera­tors, the world is going to look and [say], ‘Hey, you guys are telling us to reduce our emittance on CO2, but then you guys are investing in conventional technolo­gies for electricity.’ What we’re doing is telling them, ‘Hey, we still need have power, right? But at least we’re making the effort to reduce our … global emis­sions to zero percent.’”

Paul’s and his staff’s plans for meet­ing these development goals and fur­ther goals down the road could all go by the wayside should they prove unable to modernize the system by which land lease agreements are created on Ebeye and the other causeway communities. In order to build anything, ranging from a private home to a public medical clinic or a public sewer pipeline running along a neighborhood street, mortgagors, inves­tors and project managers must current­ly work their way through a complicated system with individual landowners. It’s an unorganized an ineffective land ten­ure system that inhibits investment se­curity over the long haul—and can even drive away some investment opportu­nities, Paul told the group. The World Bank, for instance, has allocated $45 mil­lion for the construction of coastal pro­tection measures on Ebeye and all the way up the causeway to Ninji, Paul said; however no funds will be release until the senator and his team can provide le­gal proof that those investments will be secure over the long term.

The implementation of what Paul de­scribed as a master lease plan could re­solve the problem, he told Stewart and Matthews.

He used private home construction as an example.

“If you look at most of the houses on Ebeye, they’re considered makeshift,” the senator explained. “Because, you know, it really boils down to economic security, right? If you don’t have a valid lease, there’s really no collateral, no se­curity for that mortgage that you’re tak­ing out. So if you’re taking out $100,000 mortgage to build a house and there’s no land security. You have to be able to comfortably take that out, and no bank will lend that money to you. So with this lease in place, we’ll facilitate all of that.”

In other words, the Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority would step in and serve as a “one stop shop,” Paul said.

“We would be the one to give you that permission. And then you can take it to the bank, and the bank would actually commission that financing.”

The plan is ambitious. And while offi­cials view it as a necessity for long-term development in the local island commu­nities, it could take 10-15 years to fully implement, the senator said.

After their meetings with Paul, Stew­art and Matthews took the opportunity Wednesday to tour Ebeye’s current re­verse osmosis station, power plant, hospital and the causeway before flying north to visit the people of Enniburr.

Also part of their stay on the atoll were briefings with Reagan Test Site staff members’ about their missions in orbital tracking, foreign launch intelli­gence and weapons testing for the Army, the Air Force and Department of Defense clients. Matthews flew to the Federated States of Micronesia Thursday, continu­ing his tour of Micronesia, and Stewart returned to Majuro the following day.

Marshall Islands Cast Votes for New RMI President

Thousands of Marshall Islands citizens came in droves Monday to the Island Community Center on Ebeye to cast their ballots in the Republic of the Marshall Islands 2015 local and national elections. While many came to the polls from their homes on Ebeye, others travelled down the east reef causeway from Gugeegue, North Loi and so on to get to Ebeye. Others living on Enubuj (Carlson) Ennylabegan (Carlos) and Bigej came in via boats. All endured long lines that snaked throughout the entrance of the community center to registration tables and finally to voting booths where citizens marked in their choices on paper ballots before slipping them into secure boxes, each marked with the name of the voter’s respective voting district.

The elections gave R.M.I. citizens in the islands, including those outside the country using mail-in ballots, the opportunity to reset their political representation nationally and locally. At each polling station, voters wrote in their choices for their local atoll government council members, their atoll mayor and their senators. The last opportunity they had to do so was during the election cycle in 2011, when voters’ current leaders were voted in.

Ebeye’s wasn’t the only polling station open on Kwajalein Atoll Monday. In addition to Ebeye, there was one opened at Ennubirr, Majetto and Ebadon, the latter two of which are located at the north-west tip of the atoll. Citizens on the atoll, and elsewhere on other atolls and islands, either made their way to the closest polling station, or they mailed in their ballots from outside the country.

The most local level of democratic political governance for an atoll’s residents is the local atoll government council, and on Kwajalein Atoll all nine Kwajalein Atoll Local Government Council member positions were up for grabs this year. More than 50 candidates campaigned for the positions. Those who get voted in will work with and advise the incoming mayor, also to be elected, in drafting regulations governing all local aspects of life on the islands that make up Kwajalein Atoll. (The islands making up U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll are an exception).

Republic of the Marshall Islands citizens residing on Ebeye, Enubuj, Ennylabegan, Kwajalein, Gugeegue and other causeway islands cast their ballots during the 2015 local and national elections at a polling station on Ebeye Monday.

At the top echelon of local democratic atoll governance is the atoll mayor, and eight candidates battled for the top spot. Following the passing of late KALGOV Mayor Johnny Lemari in March, the incoming mayor will take over from acting Mayor Card Subille and lead the local atoll government council. Because R.M.I. law forbids mail-in ballots from being opened and tallied until 10 days after the election, the results of both of these elections are still undecided at the time of this writing and will likely not be released until early December.

On the national level, 33 senators represent the R.M.I. citizenry in 24 districts, and all of those senators were up for re-election during the 2015 election cycle. Each district is allotted its number of senators based on the district’s population size—similar to the number of representatives each U.S. state has in the House of Representatives. Majuro Atoll, for instance, is afforded five senators; Kwajalein Atoll, with a population of 12,000, is afforded three senators. Kwajalein Atoll Sens. Jeban Riklon, Tony deBrum (deBrum is also the current R.M.I. foreign minister) and Iroij Michael Kabua were up for re-election this year. They faced challenges by four atoll natives: Stephen Dribo, Ataji Balos, Alvin Jacklick and David Paul. Again, because of R.M.I. law, the results of these elections will not be released until early December.

Finally, it should be noted that, unlike the United States, the R.M.I’s political framework does not allow for citizens to decide, via an electoral vote, the nation’s president. The individual who becomes the president of the Marshall Islands is decided by the next crop of 33 senators placed into power by the voters. They make the selection via a vote at the start of the Nitijela’s next session the following January after the election. The newly-elected president will then select 10 senators out of the remaining pool of 32 to fill the positions in his executive cabinet.